Posts Tagged sharepoint

Sharepoint with a dash of Metro

One of the frequent posters on the Office 365 Grid community Matt Hughes, has posted a free Master Page template for Sharepoint online… sharpening up the experience with a Metro overhaul. Read more here : http://community.office365.com/en-us/blogs/the_grid/archive/2012/06/29/free-sharepoint-office-365-master-page-amp-css-grid-user-post.aspx

This could be the first in many free templates to update the existing Sharepoint Online experience to the new world of Metro sharpness.

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Sharepoint adoption

Taxonomy is a word that is used quite frequently when describing the classification and management of information within Sharepoint. Sharepoint is the information management component of Office 365, and as great as it is there can be some hurdles to getting users to adopt it. In a perfect world Sharepoint would replace the file share and any other document based processes within your business. Chris Riley blogged recently on Taxonomy and how important it is to any Sharepoint deployment, cloud or on premise.

Taxonomy Planning in SharePoint 2010 – End User – NothingButSharePoint.com.

The biggest limitation with Sharepoint is that there are NO limitations… Time and time again Sharepoint deployments fail due to lack of planning. You can plan your Sharepoint deployment so that your users aren’t put off. Keeping it simple and easy to understand while at the same time enforcing a level of governance to ensure the data stored is searchable and relevant.

Going from a file share to Sharepoint takes some getting used to and with a good amount a planning it should make logical sense to the user from the get-go. One of the tools we have found to be useful that allow users to work from a familiar environment is Harmon.ie . This tool is a plug in for Outlook and is accessible from the main Outlook pane or any new calendar or mail item. It allows a user to interact with their Sharepoint sites and document libraries right from within Outlook, no need to change to a different app or grapple with the browser experience. Navigation is handled similar to traditional folder structures and its that familiar navigation that adds to its ease of use.

Harmon.ie is free up to 250 seats however there is an “Enterprise” version available for USD$129/user/year. There is also an iPad and iPhone client available for free, this client allows navigation of your Sharepoint sites and at a glance view the documents and their meta data. With the current lack of Office for iOS the premium version of the iOS client will take a user to the Web App interface for quick editing of documents. My iPad uses a version of Quick Office (a 3rd party Office style editor) and Harmon.ie recognizes this and allows you to edit documents in this app seamlessly.

The important thing from an administrative point of view is to architect the structure of the information within Sharepoint ahead of time. The moment users are able to access the site they will revert to old habits if strict governance isn’t present. Office 365 has to be the cheapest content management solution on the market and with some good planning it can be the best experience for an end-user as well.

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The next step in productivity

When talking to customers about the advantages of “cloud” computing the story usually focuses around the cost of running their own email server vs a hosted exchange cost. The experience of not running your own IT infrastructure has its upside as well with the reduction of risk to your business with the enterprise level support you get with todays cloud providers.

The Microsoft Office 365 suite provides a great story, offering real value in a per user per month cost of Office 2010 and the “back office” products; Exchange, Sharepoint and Lync. The one story I still struggle with is the use of the Sharepoint component. Recently it proved to become easier when I linked it with a CRM deployment story, using Sharepoint as the common document repository for all customer data. This in my view is still selling the story of Sharepoint short, it doesn’t quite create a compelling reason for a customer to adopt the Sharepoint way of life. Sharepoint requires effort from the customer to set it up and architect the data it stores, more importantly it needs adoption by the end user to be a success and this part will in my opinion become easier.

The imminent release of Windows 8 excites me, not for the simple reason it is the “next version” of Windows, but the fact that it will fundamentally change the way in which people work. I believe the most important part of the Windows 8 story will be Office “wave 15” or the next version of the ubiquitous productivity suite from Microsoft. With the current version of Office 2010 (wave 14) and the release of Sharepoint 2010 we saw the introduction of Office Web Apps. This delivered an experience of Office 2010 to the browser, and for the most part it delivered. It provided users with the ability to work ad-hoc in a browser environment, if only to collaborate with others or simply for convenience the browser version of the Office apps allowed users to approach collaboration in a different way. This was much much more than a compete play against Google apps. The next version of Office will deliver the office experience to any user on any device, and by any device I’m looking at you iOS.

It would seem that the adoption of the Apple iPhone and later on the iPad was much to Microsofts dismay. In my time at Microsoft (2008 – 2011) I owned an iPhone and an iPad and was constantly frustrated with the way in which my fellow employees considered the device. Rather than just a competitor I saw it as an opportunity, another platform which Microsoft could deliver its productivity suite to. With the release of iOS 2.0 Exchange ActiveSync was licensed by Apple allowing a rich email experience on the iOS devices. This meant many  “enterprise” customers were now able to consider the iPhone as a smartphone platform and indeed it became the CEO showoff device of choice.

I predict the next version of Office 15 will become available as a fully fledged “app” available on the iOS devices, both iPad and iPhone, this isn’t hard to guess as there are already apps for the Lync and One Note clients. It will be the browser version of Office Web Apps will take the connected touch experience to the next level. This isn’t necessarily something that will be driven by iOS but more by the touch driven interface of Windows 8. The Metro interface has been hugely successful on Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 consumer preview. I predict Microsoft will introduce the Metro interface to iOS users in the next version of Office, by way of apps or web apps. Metro offers a clean touch experience that most users today expect from their smartphones. Taking away the clutter from tool bars and re-focusing the productivity apps for touch will see end users using their devices more. Both Apple and Microsoft are making changes to offer a more simplified experience to users of their desktop operating systems, OSX and Windows respectively. Apple are approaching it gradually by introducing features from their iOS platform to their desktop operating system with changes appearing in Lion and soon to be released Mountain Lion. Microsoft on the other hand are making a much bolder statement with the Metro interface from their mobile platform being the “default” for Windows 8.

Interfaces aside the constant connection to information will be the main driver for customers to choose a cloud solution. The Sharepoint story will make more sense with the next version of Office, further enhancing the experience for the end user. Users will expect to have the same experience on any device and be able to access their data from wherever they are.

Microsoft Office "15" logo

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Migration from Office 365 P plan to E plan

One of the things that impresses me with the cloud offerings from Microsoft is the great partner community dedicated to delivering the solution. In this blog I want to talk about the experience I had recently moving a customer from the P Plan of Office 365 to the E Plan. I talked about the reasons why this migration became necessary in my earlier blog post . In this post I will talk about the migration of the DNS records and the mail data, as we are deploying CRM Online we will not be transferring any existing Sharepoint configuration, rather bulk copy the files using explorer to the new Sharepoint structure.

Microsoft have their own reasons for creating two separate product offerings within Office 365, one of which is the Google compete aspect. The P plan is a direct competitor with Google Apps/Docs/Mail and is priced accordingly, it does however miss out on a few important features, SSL (secure) connection to Sharepoint Online, more than 25 users (50 users hard limit), no Active Directory integration to list a few. Microsoft don’t currently offer customers any tools to migrate from the P Plan to the E Plan and you can’t purchase E Plan licenses from a P Plan tenant. This is where a partner steps in to make life extremely easy, MigrationWiz have been at the forefront of providing cloud migration tools for a number of years now, my first interaction with them came when I wanted to migrate a customer from Gmail to BPOS – Microsoft Online Services back in 2010.

The experience with MigrationWiz has only become better since my last trial. The interface is slick and easy to understand and for around US$10 per mailbox it just doesn’t make sense to attempt to migrate any other way. I would suggest that Microsoft purchase MigrationWiz but then again I appreciate the neutrality provided by their current position. There are a few things you need to understand when performing such a migration and while simple to understand, they may interrupt your services and/or mail flow.

Understand your DNS, this has to be the most important part of the migration. I spoke earlier about DNS Records and in this case too you will need to make changes to these records. The DNS record allowing you to route mail and authenticate users is only able to be associated with one tenant of Office 365, so if you are migrating to another tenant as in this case you will need to plan when to move this record across.

Verify Domain process Office 365

You will get an error when you attempt this in Office 365 if the domain is associated with another tenant.

Domain verification error Office 365

I suggest that you choose a weekend to migrate your customer as the DNS changes may take up to 24 hours to complete. It needs to start with “releasing” or deleting the DNS record from the old tenant, this will initiate some hidden scripts which de-provision the record from the services in the back end. It is important to understand that at this stage you will still be able to access the user accounts using their tenant alias @.onmicrosoft.com . Email will stop at this time, you could employ the use of a “mail bagging” service, usually provided by your ISP, make some enquiries as it will prevent email from being dropped in the time you take to transfer the record to the new tenant. Changing your MX record at this time to the mail bagging service will prevent mail from being dropped. The domain name will take some time to be released from the old tenant, Microsoft advise this could be up to 24 hours, if after 24 hours it still won’t allow you to verify the domain in the new tenant then make a call to Microsoft Support and they will manually release the record. Once you have verified the domain in the new tenant of Office 365 you will then be able to redirect the MX record again, pointing it to the Office 365 servers. Again this should be completed on a weekend or an outage window of at least 24 hours.

DNS Settings for the Exchange Online service and Lync Online

I used the premium license of MigrationWiz as I wanted to make a couple of passes to migrate the mail. The other thing this allows you to do is perform a complete migration without interrupting any mail flow for the customer. At a cost of US$11.99 per mailbox it was only $2 more than the standard single pass license. Before I migrated any mail data I needed to ensure the mailboxes I was migrating to existed in the new tenant.

Having purchased the P Plan originally I had no Active Directory federation or synchronization to worry about, Microsoft gave me a couple of great tools to create the user accounts by way of uploading a CSV file with the usernames in it, this was exported from the old tenant of Office 365 using the free poweshell cmdlets, if you don’t know how to use Powershell i highly recommend you do as it will make life a lot easier. When importing the users from the CSV file you will need to change the user account ID to use the default tenant id @.onmicrosoft.com as the domain will not be verified yet.

This CSV file can then be modified and used in the MigrationWiz portal to configure the mailboxes you want to migrate. Credentials can be that of an administrator, as administrator accounts have access to all users mailboxes.

The mailbox migration status in the MigrationWiz dashboard

As you can see from the screenshot above, the console in MigrationWiz is clean and easy to understand, mirroring the experience had within the Office 365 environment. The status of the migration can be seen at a glance and any errors are easy to identify and fix. The beauty of using a cloud to cloud service is that my bandwidth isn’t used, all the data is transferred direct from one data center to another. Be aware that the migration does take some time therefore I would recommend using the premium license of MigrationWiz that allows you to make more than one pass of the mailboxes, the first, a week before the migration date and once again after the MX records have been migrated. Contacts, Calendar and email folders are migrated using this method and users will not notice the difference when they connect to their new mailbox.

The last thing to remember is that the user’s passwords will need to be changed. I this case I logged into every account and changed the users passwords via the portal. This was fine for the 20 user accounts I was migrating, however the Powershell cmdlets I mentioned earlier could have easily achieved the same result allowing you to set a default password for the new accounts. The auto discover record will allow the devices to automatically redirect the connection to the new mailbox.

I hope this has shown how easy a migration can be once you have chosen a cloud service, with the tools made available by Microsoft and more importantly by the partner community it can be achieved in a few easy steps.

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It’s begun!

I have received a notification that my transition to Office 365 has begun.

Not long to go now before I can expand my current Exchange Online subscription to the full Office 365 Suite! Including Lync, Sharepoint and the new features of Exchange 2010 Online.

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